The running of any Government, Community, Society or even an Organization for that matter is, no doubt, a very complicated matter. The main reason for this complication is the many arrays of problems and situations that can arise and each one of them demands special attention to cater to. This makes the smooth running of any setup, then, a big challenge for the concerned authorities. However, this smooth running turn into more of a challenge in the face of a disaster or a crisis, which can completely turn the entire setup upside down.
Before an analysis of the Frontline Documentary "The Spill" can be presented, it is important that we understand the background of the event presented and the difference between crisis and disaster and how it ties up to the incident in question.
Merriam Webster defines Crisis as "A situation that has reached a critical phase" (Merriam Webster, n.d.). However, the traditional meaning of a crisis is considered to be associated with concepts such as "threat, urgency and uncertainty" (Boin, 2009). These words however have had to take a new meaning in the modern societies, which are now dependent on each other due to the infrastructure that they share to co-exist. Therefore modern day crisis's and disasters need to be looked upon as transboundary in nature, in which the crossing over of boundaries and thus the effects of a problem being felt in another region is inevitable. Thus the new definition that emerges in front of us is "The functioning of multiple, life-sustaining systems, or infrastructures is acutely threatened and the causes of failure or courses of redress remain unclear" (Boin, 2009).
A disaster however has not been so easy to define, but one definition that has surfaced, and has been considered acceptable defines Disaster as "A sudden ecologic phenomenon of sufficient magnitude to require external assistance" (Zibulewsky, 2000). Another view point differentiates between a crisis and a disaster as disaster basically is a situation where no plan has been made to cater to any problems that may arise (Bolton, 2006). One thing that is evident enough is that for an incident to qualify as a Disaster, the requirement of External Assistance is a perquisite to manage and control it. In the light of this definition, it would be determined whether the Incident of the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico was in a fact a crisis or a calamity equal to a disaster status.
The Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico was one of the largest Oil Spills in history, incomparable to any such event before (Griggs, 2011). The Incident was enough to put at risk many jobs and the environment and made venerable many people who relied on the gulf for their livelihood. The company responsible for the spill British Petroleum (BP) has been in the limelight before as well for similar charges and their lack of responsible attitude regarding such concerns (Crooks, 2010).
The documentary focuses on the Past of the company before focusing on the Oil Spill. It is in this evaluation of the Past that it becomes clear that BP was fast becoming a Corporation that focused on "Profits over People." One incident in this very Past of BP is crucial in helping with the argument whether the Mexico Oil Spill was a disaster or a crisis.
In 2005, a blast in the Texas City Refinery shed light to the many management and infrastructure maintenance issues in BP and its many refineries. While the incident took lives of 15 people, it also made one thing apparent and that was how BP had been handling the many safety warnings that were being issued from the Texas Refinery (BBC News, 2006).
The documentary makes it clear enough that the refinery had reached a critical stage and the very people working on the site worried regarding their safety. A "shift the blame" game was played at the time of the incident, which is quite reflective of the transboundary crisis that has been mentioned in the writings of Arjen Boin.
With so many regions and organizations involved in the middle, the shifting of the blame meant that no one was in a fact accountable for the event, and the "crisis" was managed without anyone being charged for the incident. Settlements and Compensations were paid and the entire incident was forgotten and the attention diverted, while little was done to ensure that such events do not take place in the future. The constant reporting to the London base of BP with no adequate response created a situation in which one has a weak governance setup with the base so far that the reality of the situation was a bizarre reality to them, and quite disconnected with their base.
Other such events that have taken place in BP refineries include the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in Alaska (BBC News, 2006), Safety concerns in the Cherry Point refinery, Washington State (Richard Mauer, 2010), Toxic waste discharge in the Air of Texas City (Knutson, 2010), etc. These events also indicate towards the rising crisis in the management of BP and is quite indicative of a huge scale disaster, since in any of these incidents no back up plans are in sight that are put into practice.
The incident eventually went so beyond the scale of the BP Management, with their inability to control it immediately, that external assistance was needed. This intervention and assistance came in the form of, what has been defined as, "War Cabinet" compiling of many scientist and advisors to assist BP's contractor and engineering staff (Mason, 2010).
With regards to the incident at the Gulf of Mexico, the track record of BP was enough to show that infrastructure safety was always sidelined in front of profits and therefore the incident was inevitable. It has been labeled as the biggest Industrial Disaster in decades and BP has faced much public ridicule in this regard. The cost cutting within the corporation was a trend and has grown to such a magnitude that it had become the culture of BP.
Another thing that became much clears during the course of the period, from April 2010 till July 2010 (Griggs, 2011), show that no plans were there in case of such a disaster. It almost seems that the American Government and the BP Administration were all working under the illusion that the probability of such an event are extremely low, however, in reality this disaster has proved to be, no doubt, one of low probability, but with extremely high impacts (McQuaid, 2010).
It is not at all surprising then that the lack of contingency plan made the situation even worse, with it taking almost 2 months to control the situation, and to cap the oil well. The approach taken in this case is completely opposite to the views of Barbara Nollau, who in her writing "Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity" makes it a must for all organizations to have a disaster management plan, if they want to survive beyond the disaster.
But the question to be answered still remains whether the Gulf of Mexico incident was indeed just a crisis or a Disaster? In the analysis so far, the conclusions that can be made, include the fact that
A critical stage had already been reached within many refineries and as such in the manner the management worked.
Previous incidents and the infrastructure management methodology were indicative enough of a fore coming crisis.
External Assistance was required to control the incident, which was too big for the BP management to handle.
To this, it can be safely concluded that the Incident in a fact can be concluded as a "Disaster." Its implications were indeed transboundary, as it crossed over many geographical barriers and had an impact on many organizations. The real responsible could never be pointed out in an organizational setup which was too large to understand and even operate with the cost cutting formula that was constantly being employed by the BP management.
The Political Administrative challenges that became apparent in the light of this incident also meant that the U.S. Government understood in no clear terms that the prospects of off-shore digging are still too dauntingly technically to be pursued, which is a serious blow to the planning by the Obama Administration (Broder, 2010).
It becomes important therefore to conclude on the note that the management based on the probability of incidents that might seem too farfetched also need to be considered by the organizations before they can proceed with any plans, especially in the modern world, where the infrastructure, survival, communications, etc. all of them are tied together. And thus respect for such boundaries which are being shared is extremely essential.
BBC News. (2006, November 1st). BP 'knew of Texas safety worries'. Retrieved December 17th, 2011, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6100938.stm
Boin, A. (2009). The New World of Crises and Crisis Management: Implications for Policymaking and Research. Review of Policy Research, 26,…